It’s just another day, no different than yesterday, or any other days before. I wake up to see another balloon tied to my arm. Today it’s a red one, but the colour seems faded as the balloon floats in the air, held to my arm by a thin, tight string. This is what happens every morning: another balloon drifts onto the bunch on my arm and weighs me down just a little bit more. You might expect the balloons would make me strong, because I have been carrying this heavy weight for a long time, since my mom got diagnosed with cancer, but they don’t. They make me weaker, and emptier. I don’t know how much longer I can hold them up.
I can feel the balloons burdening me like I’m carrying a tonne of rocks on my back. I wish they were light, like balloons are supposed to be: joyful and airy; but instead, they get heavier and heavier each day.
The balloons drift behind me as I leave the empty, echoing house for school. They softly hit the walls of the house and scrape along the door, but they never break, they never pop; they’re always there, following me around like the darkest shadow or the deepest scar.
As I walk into school, I can feel everyone’s eyes on me. They can’t see my balloons (no one can except me), but I know what they’re looking at. My face. It has always been slightly deformed, ever since I was born. It seems like no one at school can get used to it; they just keep staring, as if somehow looking at it will make it go away.
When the bell finally rings for the end of the school day, I trudge to the hospital. I ache all over from holding up the heavy, oppressing balloons. Usually every day after school I go to the hospital to visit my mom. I sometimes wonder if she’s going to die. As she lays in the hospital bed, her eyes empty and her smile sad, all I can feel is a sharp pain of hopelessness. I make a quick excuse about homework and leave the dreary hospital room to walk home, tired of facing the raw reality.
As my feet trudge along the uneven pavement, I worry. I worry about how mean my dad would be if he ever came back; I worry about how alone I would be if my mom died; I worry about Halloween, and if the kids at school will dress up as me again, trying to be as scary-looking as I am. I feel heavier all of a sudden. I look at my pale, thin arm and realise that another balloon has floated onto it, tied just as tight as the other ones.
At home, I prepare a simple dinner in the kitchen, dragging my feet, my balloons following me with every step. I pick at my food, not hungry, just worrying. I go outside and sit at the front, just watching everyone outside. An old woman is walking her cats, two little boys are playing on scooters in their front yard, a mom is calling her kids to come inside for dinner. I sit there, alone, wondering what the future will hold. Will I ever feel free again, unburdened by the weight of these balloons?
Suddenly, there’s a man standing in front of me.
“Hello,” he says. His voice is soft but deep and strong, like the faintest rumble of thunder in a summer night storm.
“What do you want?” I ask, my voice trembling, wondering what this man was doing on our front yard.
“My name is Quinn,” he says, avoiding my question. As he stands there, watching me, I become less suspicious of him. Instead, I’m curious. He doesn’t seem to be trying to assault me, but he seems more like a friend, even though I haven’t met him before.
“What do you want?” I ask him again, this time more confidently.
“I want to give you some advice,” Quinn says.
“Advice?” I ask. How does this man know enough about me to give me advice?
“What do you mean?” I ask, my mind whirling, questions bouncing through my head.
“Let go of your worries. They are only weighing you down, making you stumble. Let go and you will walk free again,” Quinn says kindly, coming closer to place a smooth, gentle hand on my trembling arm. I shake my head.
“I-I can’t.” I pull away, hiding the tears that came to my eyes.
“Why not?” Quinn asks, his voice still gentle.
“I don’t know how!” I choke out, pushing my dark hair in front of my face, blinking away tears. Quinn pauses, and looks at me, his eyes filled with an intense look that I can’t quite understand.
“Just let go,” he says, taking my hand. I start to shake. How does he think it’s so easy? How can he expect me to let go of my problems when I don’t know how? How can I stop worrying when it’s the only thing on my mind?
“You know what to do,” Quinn says softly. I look up at him, his face blurry through my tears. He nods, encouraging me. Slowly, carefully, my shaking fingers pick at the tight knot around my arm. Quinn leans over and unties it for me. Then he puts his strong, firm hand over my arm, the string still there, and smiles.
“Now let go,” he says. “I’ll be right there, watching.” And he moves his hand away. Slowly, the balloons lift off my arm. They spiral into the sky, weightless, graceful. I hold my breath as I watch the balloons sail higher and higher, taking away my worries, taking away my pain. I look over at Quinn. He smiles at me and grabs my hand, and together we watch the balloons glide away, tickling the tree branches, touching the clouds. And as the wind makes the balloons drift away in the evening sky, my heart overflows with a deep, unfamiliar feeling. I feel lighter, happier.
“You did it,” Quinn says softly, his words a melody of joy. “You let go.” I look up at the sky again, hand entwined in Quinn’s, and I whisper the words that I have been waiting to say for a long time.
“I am free.”